Gay is the new local

Recently, the two of us sat on Lexington Avenue reading Mountain Xpress aloud to each other. It’s something we do while we take in the goings-on in our neighborhood.

We live in downtown Asheville, and while we appreciate the quirky spunk of West Asheville, the almost rural feel of Fairview, the old-school Southern charm of Beaver Lake, downtown embodies what we truly love about this city — the local-business culture, good walking, the constant emergence and subsequent disappearance of first-rate street art (what some people call “graffiti”).

We were drawn to Asheville for all the reasons everyone is, but also because of where we come from and how unsafe many places can be for us. Both of us are Southern and queer: From our perspective, there isn’t a better place for Southern LGBT folks than Asheville. In the years Heather lived in Nashville, she often joked that Asheville might be the one Southern place where you faced a greater threat for being a homophobe than for being gay.

Lately, however, we worry that Asheville is increasingly resembling the Southern towns we’re from (Baton Rouge, La., and Gastonia, N.C.) and, in the process, becoming less safe for us and for the Asheville community we love.

We attended the Feb. 22 City Council meeting described by James Dye in a recent Mountain Xpress commentary [see “How Do You Spell ‘Respect,’” June 29], in which Asheville adopted a pro-LGBT ordinance. In fact, we walked to the City Building from our apartment in the late afternoon. We sat together, and for most of the meeting, we held hands — despite the disgusted looks and whispers.

That didn’t surprise us, because we knew there would be many in attendance who would virulently oppose the city ordinance, which notably outlaws bullying on city property. But we hadn’t anticipated feeling so nervous about leaving the building after the meeting that we quickly found the stairwell and literally ran home.

We hadn’t anticipated that in living together downtown, making Biltmore Avenue and Wall Street our neighborhood, we would be openly stared, pointed and laughed at on a daily basis.

We were shocked when, while walking home just after dark on a summer evening, two men who appeared to be lost (and thus, presumably, not local) began following us. They made several jokes that were hard to comprehend (as so much racist, sexist and homophobic humor is). We had only just closed our apartment building’s gate behind us when they tried to follow us in for what we imagine would not have been a very Asheville Zen-like scene.

True, we were holding hands. But that’s why we moved to Asheville — because it was a place where we believed we could.

Dye’s perhaps ironic comment was, “It’s alarmist, perhaps even ‘a lie from the pit of hell,’ to intimate that such violence could happen here,” referring to the murder of gay-rights activist David Kato Kisule in Kampala. Increasingly, however, it’s quite realistic to suggest that such violence is not only possible but probable here.

With Asheville’s exploding popularity as a Southern tourist destination, this city will see more and more visitors who may be unaware that last year, named Asheville the 12th gayest city in America. To be sure, some will be delighted that in a starkly conservative part of the country, Asheville is a haven for all things progressive. But others will undoubtedly be shocked to learn who populates this town.

Research on hate crimes has shown that the perceived ascendancy of minorities elicits a kind of rage that frequently results in verbal threats and sometimes violence. The ever-growing tourism resulting from so much Asheville buzz in the national media, together with recent gay victories both locally and nationally (congratulations, New York!) create the potential for Asheville’s own series of unfortunate events.

The Asheville Grown campaign has taken off. Almost every single storefront in our neighborhood features the smartly designed “Love Asheville” or “Local is the New Black” posters. This campaign resonates with people who live here and LOVE that they do. And while the regional economy depends on tourism dollars, it’s up to the locals to preserve our unique identity by resisting the importation of that which doesn’t jibe with our culture.

Asheville is a great town; Asheville is a gay town. These facts are inextricably linked. Many of the things that make Asheville great — the vibrancy of art, the culinary innovation, the preservation of the landscape, the delightful range of family life — are brought to you by LGBTQ Ashevilleans.

In response to tourists who might be shocked or disgusted to discover our gay town, consider initiating a personal public-service campaign. Challenge snide comments. Catch the eye of people staring, nod and smile. Confront the homophobia endemic to so many American towns. Keeping Asheville gay is part of keeping Asheville great.

The most popular Asheville Grown poster features the provocative slogan “Love Asheville. Put Your $ Where Your Is. Buy Local.” We issue the following challenge: Love Asheville. Put Your Heart Where the Love Is. Love Gays.

— Heather Talley is regular contributor to Lee Crayton is a Ph.D. candidate at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

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2 thoughts on “Gay is the new local

  1. Viking

    I think there were merits to this article, but it was over reach.

    There are many groups that are economically marginalized and have their civil rights abridged on a regular basis. Mainly, this is a kind of preferential treatment factor that makes us a friend to some and a target for undermining or physical attack to others. It’s tribalism and it certainly should be part of the past and not part of the 21st century.

    No one who innocently walks around Asheville, or any place in the world, should be bullied. But claiming we are a gay city isn’t accurate and is not necessary. We need to keep focusing on bullying, which is actually a serious stage in increasingly sociopathic behaviors.

    The way the President of the United States, Barak Obama, and Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi are treated by paleoconservatives is an example of not using critical thinking but backwards and anti-democratic bullying techniques. I admire the boldness of the authors of this commentary, but they ought to concentrate on the way America is being over run by a minority of neofascists. Also, simply calling for men and women alike to be on the look out for any other heterosexual or homosexual singles or couples being in unsafe predicaments asks each of us to look out for each other.

    I was happy to call out the nastiness of a group of politicians and pseudo religious leaders backed by local government (APD/BC Sheriff’s Department) officials a few years ago when they sought to have an ant-gay marriage rally on what was then still City-County Plaza. A relatively small group of young folks supporting the LBGT POV showed up and heckled a bit but were by no means throwing molotov cocktails. A dozen Sheriff deputies were already lined up in front of the court house.

    After the third or fourth act of ‘felony heckling’, APD staff filled out beside the PD/FD station and then lined up a few feet in front of the LGBT group. At that point law enforcement on scene easily outnumbered the pro-LBGT folks. APD (led by a APD/BCSD SWAT contingent) began telling the youngsters to move on or be arrested. Then they took few steps forward. One kid refused and was thrown on the ground.

    WLOS covered this but didn’t run the footage of the entire process. Disgusting stuff, and I didn’t agree with this utilization of taxpayer-funded activity. At the same time I am usually happy we have a fairly modern police department. Everyone at COA needs to be less defensive when criticized and they need to come back with recognition they understand reasonable, accurate criticism.

    So LGBT issues are real issues. There’s not a modern, civil acceptance in some demographics to the fact that LGBT citizens are real citizens and are once again asking for evolutionary democracy to work for their needs. Good, and it is time for all states to own up to the fact that we are no longer prosecuting homosexuality and being non-criminally but ethically different than… ‘Billy Graham World’.

    I would say look around though and realize that there are a lot of Americans suffering a list of injustices. Every man, woman and child needs to be able to say my security is a human right and there be as much focus on a redefined level of security as there is on our Most High 2nd Amendment Gun Rights. WNC is great in many ways, but it’s basically a political sewer with 20th century cliches’ serving as our assumed standards for ‘leadership’.

    “Asheville is a great town; Asheville is a gay town. These facts are inextricably linked.” That’s just a lot to accept. Asheville does not have a African-American majority, and I do not believe Asheville has a LGBT majority either. But that doesn’t mean we need to promote stratification. I love people, but asking us to specifically love gays means LGBT folks are somehow super-special under dire threat more so than our homeless, underemployed and/or those sick with zero (still sufficient healthcare coverage).

    The authors are clearly capable of defending themselves, by the best tool we have in the civilization creation skills set: words. I am on board with making bullying a serious taboo, even punished by law. But overweight kids, and kids (adults) with no identifiable differentiation from ‘regular Americans from around here’ get crapped on and attacked on a daily basis.

    Is the point to make Asheville a gay city, or a city with a fundamental presence and reality of democratic civilization. I say the later is the point these days. That broader ‘let’s work together’ ethic makes life better for everyone.

    But imagine all the people in Asheville, WNC, the USA and globally who have no voice and have never found the courage to defend themselves from injustice… let alone others. LGBT folk may be getting attacked today in America, again. But at least one disabled person, a poor person, a child, an elderly or a citizen of color were also attacked physically or handed some kind of reprehensible injustice.

    Just put the LGBT agenda in perspective. Things are getting complicated fast. Let’s work together. Come on, come on.

  2. Barry Summers

    I’m straight but hopefully not narrow, as the saying goes, but I have to say I’m a little bothered by the assertion, “Asheville is a gay town”, as much as I would be by someone saying “Asheville is a heterosexual town”.

    What is the need for making this kind of statement, which will almost certainly alienate and provoke people?

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